Chapter 10: Sounds
“What’re you going to do, Lia?” Larry asked as he watched Natalia confidently step forward.
Meg tilted her head, and Nick and Seron watched in silence.
“Just leave this to me. It’s my turn to take the spotlight.”
“Hey… don’t tell me you’re gonna play music to find the passage?” Larry squawked, dead serious. Natalia burst into laughter.
“Pffft! Hahah! Close, but no cigar. Does anyone have anything big and solid? Check your backpack, Larry. I need something like a club.”
“Huh? I have a folding spade, if that works for you.”
“Sure. Hand it over.”
Confused, Larry pulled out a military-use folding spade from one of the backpack pockets. It was mid-sized with a green wooden shaft, and a foldable black metallic head.
Larry expertly unfolded and secured the spade open. Then he handed it to Natalia by the shaft.
“Thanks. Now where do I start? I think Seron’s on to what I’m trying to do.”
“Yeah.” Seron nodded.
“Oh! I think that I am on to what it is too!” Meg said brightly, raising her hand.
Larry and Nick seemed to be in the dark still. Seron answered Natalia’s question.
“You can leave the north side for the end. The campus wall’s right there, and beyond that’s an apartment building. And I think we can save the eastern and western sides for later, since there’s not as much space in those directions. As long as there aren’t any more basements around here, anyway. Please start with the south.”
“All right. I’m gonna need all of you to stay quiet for a bit. No footsteps, you hear?”
“What are you—”
“Shaddap and let me do my thing.” Natalia cut Larry off, and headed for the south wall with a spade in hand instead of a violin.
Seron followed at a slight distance as though to guard her.
The others thought for a moment before going after Natalia and Seron. Natalia stopped a little before the wall. The others stopped about 3 meters behind her and Seron.
Holding the spade by the shaft, Natalia raised the blade to neck-level and pointed it at the wall.
“Percussion’s fine by me.”
She struck the wall with the end of the spade.
Clang. A dull, heavy sound resounded through the basement and faded.
Natalia repeated the action with the wall above and under the first spot. The shovel made the same sound.
Then, Natalia took a big step to the left.
Standing about 1 meter from her original place, she again struck the center of the wall, and then above and below the spot.
Then she took another step to the left and repeated the process.
Of the others, Jenny and Nick realized what Natalia was doing the moment she struck the wall.
“C’mon, guys. Give me a hint—” Larry began, but Jenny and Nick held up their fingers to silence him.
Twelve heavy impacts later, Natalia took yet another step to the left. And she struck the wall again.
She struck the same place for the second time. Then she struck the space below that. The impact sounded the same as the others.
“Something’s fishy about this spot.” She said, turning with a smile.
“You can figure that out with just the sound, Lia?” Larry gasped, having finally understood. Natalia responded as nonchalantly as though she were rattling off what she had eaten for breakfast.
“Yeah. This spot right here and the space under it sound totally different.”
“I can’t tell. What about you, Seron?”
Seron shook his head.
“It all sounded the same to me.”
“I did not know the different sound. I did my best, but…”
“Nor did I. Hats off to you, Natalia.”
“Yeah. I didn’t hear a difference.”
Meg, Nick, and Jenny admitted in turn.
“I see. So I’m not just dense, then.” Larry mumbled.
“It was just a subtle reverberation. Anyway, I’m pretty sure there’s some empty space behind here, but no guarantees. It’s your turn, musclehead.”
Natalia stepped away from the wall with the spade in hand. Seron approached the wall. Larry gave Natalia a curious look as he passed her by and joined Seron.
Seron cast light on the wall. He and Larry carefully scrutinized every detail.
They examined the wall for some time, but they could not find any difference in this section.
“You really think it’s here, Seron?”
“It’s worth a shot. Let’s give this spot a push. Don’t go all-in from the start, though. Start off gentle so you don’t accidentally jam your hands in the passage.”
Seron put his hands on the middle level of the wall, where Natalia had pointed, and Larry crouched down to put his hands on the lower part of the wall.
“All right. One, two, three!”
The moment they pushed, something squeaked.
The wall moved with surprising ease. The section they had been pushing against sunk several centimeters into the wall.
Seron and Larry stepped back and cast light on the wall. Part of the wall was sunken, from the floor to about Seron’s waist-level.
Larry continued to push alone, and the hidden door sunk in further.
Larry’s eyes widened even as he pushed the door open.
“I don’t believe it…”
“I expected nothing less from you, Nat. Larry, let’s keep this up.”
Seron and Larry resumed pushing together. The door finally came to a stop once it had moved about 40 centimeters.
Once Seron was sure that the door was firmly open, he turned to Larry.
“I think we’ll have to push the door sideways now. Can you give it a shot?”
“I’m on it.”
Larry waited for Seron to move out of the way and stuck his fingers into the gap on the right side of the door. He pulled.
The narrow slab of stone moved sideways with annoying ease like a smooth sliding door.
“Whoa. This is really well-made.” Larry exclaimed as he pulled the door all the way open. It finally stopped completely once the doorway was wide enough for one person to pass through, and only a sliver of the door remained in the doorway.
Seron pointed his flashlight at the stone hallway beyond.
The hallway was about 2 meters in height—more than enough for the average person to pass through comfortably. It was about 1 meter wide, with alcoves for candles in the walls at regular intervals.
The light from the flashlight hit a wall about 5 meters down the hall, which led to a left turn. There were no people or objects in sight.
“Wow!” Larry cried. “So there really is a passage here! And judging from the size, it’s gotta be connected to something! You’re actually pretty good, Lia!” He said, turning around.
“Hey, I take offense to the ‘actually’.” Natalia said, though she sounded at least 70 percent happy.
“I give you my congratulations, Natalia!”
“Megmica… I’m not sure you have the right expression there, but thanks.”
“That was amazing. I’m very impressed. It’s certainly a good thing that we all decided to come to the basement together.”
“Sure is. Teamwork’s one of the most important things in life. Yep.”
“Can I cover this story sometime? Let’s see… the title should be ‘Master Listener Understands Animal Speech?’!”
“Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.”
While the others heaped praises on Natalia, Seron crouched down and examined the base of the stone door.
Soon, he stepped away and asked Larry for something small and solid.
“Huh? …Well, I’ve got some canned food if that works.”
“Right. Are you gonna tap on the walls with it?”
“No, I’m going to use it as a doorjamb. And I need tape too, if you have any.” Seron said, as terse as ever.
“Aha! Makes sense.” Larry said, this time quick on the uptake. Seron nodded.
Larry pulled out a large roll of tape from his backpack, and a rather small tin can.
The tin was colored a murky green, and was simply labeled ‘Corned beef. Serve warm for better flavor’.
Seron took the things with a word of thanks and placed the tin can beside the door. Then he cut off a long length of tape and secured the tin so it wouldn’t roll away.
“Now the door won’t close behind us. What next?” Larry asked.
“We’ll have to go further inside.”
“That’s the spirit. And what about you guys?”
“I’m going!” Natalia replied. Seron turned.
“I guess I can’t leave you guys behind at this point. Let’s take our time and examine the passage carefully as we go.”
“Let’s. You can never be too careful.”
Seron led the way, turning on his flashlight and stepping into the doorway. Larry followed, pulling on his backpack.
“Watch your head, Lia.”
“Thanks for the concern, shortie.”
Natalia touched her gloved hands to the floor as she passed through. Then she turned around and helped Meg through.
Seron slowly walked forward. Jenny and Nick safely made it into the passage as well.
Seron and Larry kept their lights on the floor ahead as they walked.
“It’s nice and cool in here. Perfect for summertime.” Natalia commented. Meg followed close behind her, tightly gripping Natalia’s sleeve.
“This place might warrant an article or two, even without the case of the mysterious face.” Nick noted from the very back of the entourage. Jenny agreed.
“You guys aren’t scared at all, are you?” Larry mumbled.
Slowly, they approached the first corner. Seron and Larry were ready for someone to pop out from behind it.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” Seron yelled into the passage. Larry followed.
“Is anybody down here? We’re on our way!”
They exchanged glances and nodded. Then—
They lunged around the corner.
And they sighed in unison.
“Well?” Asked Natalia.
“The passage keeps going. For another 10 meters or so.” Larry replied. Seron was already walking ahead.
When Natalia and the others turned the corner, they saw that the passage continued unchanged. But this time, it was twice as long as the previous stretch. The end of the passage led to another corner, this one turning to the right.
“Well, Seron?” Larry asked.
Seron had to think for a moment. The others waited for an answer.
Natalia pointed her flashlight at Seron’s chest. The name ‘Maxwell’ embroidered on his jacket shone in the darkness. His face was vaguely outlined in the light.
“…We can’t just keep going without a plan.” Seron finally said. “We’ll need more rope if we want to undertake a full-scale exploration. We’ll need to make a map, and we’ll need extra batteries for the flashlights and a lot more water.”
“I agree. We’ll each need backpacks and hard hats with flashlights attached. Gotta be prepared.” Larry nodded, his watchful eyes on the passage ahead.
“Yeah? What’s your plan, Seron?”
“We’ll turn this corner here, and if the passage keeps going we’ll give up and go back.”
“Pardon? We will go back, you said? We will all together go back to the first building which we entered together?” Meg asked. Seron’s response was mechanical, almost cold.
“That’s right. I don’t want to risk any accidents. What if the passage branches out to the point that we lose our way? And I don’t really want to consider this, but what if there’s a cave-in? No one knows we’re in here—we’ll be stranded completely.”
“I—I know those facts very well, Seron. But there may be someone just up front still, no? Someone whom no one knows, who does not know that he will be stuck inside here.”
“If that is the case, I after all want to save him. We must save him from here. This is what we are here to do.”
With bated breath, everyone waited for Seron to continue. Several seconds passed in silence before they heard him inhale.
“If at all possible, I want to help him, too. But I can’t put you in danger for that.”
“Nice.” Larry said under his breath, his eyes still on the passage ahead. Natalia grinned, knowing that Meg could not see her face from her position. Jenny shrugged with a smile.
“He certainly has a point.” Nick said from the back of the group.
Meg was silent. Natalia put a hand on her shoulder.
“I know it’s tough to accept, Meg. But first, let’s look around that last corner. Okay?”
Seron looked into Meg’s dejected face.
“Please, Megmica. I promise, even if we have to turn back, we’re not going to leave him here. We’ll get more people here today if we can, or at least by tomorrow. We’ll explain the situation to them properly and have a thorough look inside this place. We can ask the drama club for help, too.”
“…I understand. I understand, Seron.” Meg replied, hanging her head.
“Well. Let’s do this.” Larry said, stepping forward.
Seron could say no more. He turned and followed after Larry.
Several steps later, Larry whispered to Seron.
“Hey, you think we’ll find anything around the corner?”
“No.” Seron whispered back. “I’m expecting more of the passage.”
“I knew you’d say that.”
“People used to build the most interesting things, huh.”
“I can’t tell if you’re impressed or annoyed.”
“Hey!” Natalia cried. “Enough whispering by yourselves!”
Finally, Seron and Larry reached the corner.
“All right… let’s do this.”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
This time, they gave no warning as they turned the corner. And—
They were both struck dumb.
Around the corner was a room.
* * *
“Sophia, could you pass me the basting needle?”
“Hm? Right. Here you are, Arthur.”
“Thank you. I’ll take care of this costume, so you can take a break with the others.”
“What? Er… i-it’s okay. I can wait here in case you need more help.”
“Really? Thank you.”
“It’s nothing. …I had no idea you were so good at sewing, Arthur.”
“I’ve been learning from my sister ever since I was little. She graduated last year, you know. Now she works as a fashion designer at Epstein.”
“Wow. I had no idea.”
“Really? We’ve known each other for so long I thought I might have told you before.”
“Huh? Oh… er, yeah. But I barely know anything about your family.”
“I suppose I haven’t told you much about them. On that note, I don’t know much about your family, either.”
“…S-say! If you want, do you want to come over sometime?”
“Hm? Oh, I’m sorry, Sophia! I didn’t mean it like that. Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
“Huh? But I—”
“I… it’s nothing. Nothing at all.”
“There. The coachman costume is done!”
“Good job, Arthur.”
“Thank you. I’m feeling a little thirsty now. Want to have some tea at the cafeteria?”
“Oh, yes! That sounds great!”
“Excellent. I’ll go get the others.”
“Hm? Oh… right…”
* * *
Several seconds of stunned silence followed Seron and Larry’s discovery. But they quickly regained their senses.
“What… is this?”
“If you don’t know, what chance do I have?”
They stood frozen past the corner.
“Hey, what’d you find there?” Natalia asked, turning the corner with the others. They pushed Seron and Larry aside and saw for themselves.
And they all fell silent.
There was a room.
Contrary to their assumption, the passage did not continue beyond the corner. The hallway ended suddenly about 2 meters ahead, and a wide-open space unfolded beside it.
Seron and Larry’s flashlights were still on, but they were unnecessary. Rows of lightbulbs on the wall gave off just enough light to see by.
Though it was hard to tell exactly how large the room was, it was clearly bigger than the first basement room they had entered from. It was longer than it was wide, and the stone wall on the opposite side seemed very low.
The furniture in the room was bathed in orange light.
In the center of the room was a rocking chair, and a dresser stood against the wall. Further inside the room was a bed with metal framing, and neatly folded blankets.
“What… is this?” Natalia gasped.
“Tell me if you ever figure it out, Lia.” Larry said.
“This is certainly a scoop, don’t you agree?” Nick asked Jenny.
“Yeah. But what is it, exactly?”
“This… this is a room. Yes. ‘Room’ in Roxchean, or maybe the better word is a ‘chamber’.” Said Meg. No one else could explain any further.
Seron slowly strode forward. Larry went after him.
“Excuse me!” Seron said in a very loud voice at the entrance. He cautiously looked around and stepped into the room proper. There was no one there.
Larry followed after him and slowly scanned their surroundings.
The room was about 15 meters wide and 20 meters long, with the walls made entirely of stone. Stone pillars about 50 centimeters thick stood at intervals in the room—perhaps they supported the building above.
Upon closer examination, he could see a small electric fan, two full bookshelves, a closet with large doors, and a desk and a chair—the same kind used at the school. There was a rug with intricate embroidery underneath the desk and the chair.
About half of the lightbulbs installed in the alcoves in the wall were still lit.
Electric wires from the lightbulbs were fixed against the walls. The wires split at points, and several of the branches led into to a socket in the wall.
Three verdant landscape paintings hung on the walls. Perhaps they were there to offset the desolate look of the room.
On the right side of the chamber were two doors. Both were ordinary wooden doors with doorknobs on them. The closer of the doors was red, and the other blue. They were both closed.
“It’s okay, guys. There’s no one here.” Said Larry.
The others followed after him.
“This is crazy… there really is a room down here. And it’s pretty nice—it’s even better than my room.”
“Wh-what has happened here? Do schools in Roxche hide chambers under the ground normally? Do they?”
“Let’s calm down, Megmica. As far as I know this is not the norm anywhere in Roxche. Today is simply full of surprises.”
“I’m glad I’ve got a scoop on my hands, but somebody explain what this scoop actually is! How am I supposed to write an article when I don’t have any info to go on?!”
Voices of shock and surprise resounded through the room.
“You could always make up an article to go with the photographs. Just imagine all the possibilities.” Nick suggested with a smile. but all he got in response was—
“Guys, I want you to stay near the entrance.” Seron said, walking around the entrance and examining the furniture. Larry did the same.
The furniture all seemed to be in regular use.
Seron walked up to the bookshelf and scanned its offerings. He picked out what seemed to be the newest of the books.
The book was titled, ‘Bobby and the Lemon’.
“Right.” Larry nodded, casting light on the book. Seron flipped backwards through the book and found the copyright page.
“I knew it. This was published last month—I saw an ad for it in the newspaper.”
Seron gingerly stuck the book back in the shelf and dragged Larry over to the entrance, where the others waited.
And without warning, he raised his voice.
“Wow! Who knew we’d find such a cool place underground on campus!”
It was not every day that Seron spoke so loudly. His voice bounced off of the stone walls and ceiling and echoed.
“…You all right, buddy?” Larry asked with a hint of concern, but Seron ignored the question. He spread his arms and took a deep breath, raising his voice again.
“We should use this room! As a clubhouse from now on! It’ll be a secret base! What a find! Nobody’s in here! We should take over the place!”
The others were lost, but Nick alone understood and stepped forward.
“I see now. …That’s a wonderful idea! This room is large enough to host—no, house—six people! What a discovery! We’re now free to escape our parents!”
“Not you too, Nick. I mean, you were always a bit weird, but…” Larry trailed off. But Nick ignored him and continued.
“What do you say, Seron my friend! We should throw out all the furniture we don’t need! And bring in our own things!”
“Great idea! We’ll definitely do that! In fact, we should get started immediately! Let’s all carry out some of this junk!”
“Perfect! We’ll finish the job before the day is over!”
At this point, Jenny and Natalia also noticed what Seron was doing.
“I see. I get your plan.” Jenny nodded.
“Expected nothing less from the drama club.” Said Natalia. Larry, who was still in the dark, offered a correction.
“Seron’s not in the drama club. In fact, Nick isn’t, either.”
“Okay, okay. Just be quiet and listen, Larry.”
As Larry tilted his head and Meg shrank back at the sudden noise, Nick and Seron continued.
“What do you say, Seron! That desk is awfully familiar, don’t you think? We don’t need one of those!”
“Yeah! There are plenty of those back at the school! We’ll dismantle it and throw it out! And bring in a better one!” Seron replied.
Nick took a deep breath to continue—
“W-wait! Don’t do it!”
The voice did not belong to any of the six students.
The voice came from a man.